Saturday, 11 September 2021

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 3 - Update

 

For the past month I have been steadily working my way through the submissions for Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 3

So far I have three definite acceptances and a handful of possibilities. The fate of the latter depends upon what comes in between now and the deadline of the 31st October. 

One thing I should emphasise: Please take into account the kind of fantasy anthology this is. Specifically, that it is about swords and sorcery. Unfortunately, some writers have not taken this into consideration and have sent me contemporary fantasy tales which, though they may be good stories in themselves, do not fit into this particular sub genre and will be rejected.

Anyway, things are looking good for the next volume in our series which we intend to publish before the end of November. 

All acceptances and rejections will be sent out by email within the first couple of days after the deadline.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

My review of Beyond the Curtain: Uncanny Tales of the Theatre by L. H. Maynard

 

BEYOND THE CURTAIN: UNCANNY TALES OF THE THEATRE by L. H. Maynard

£6.99 paperback; £1.99 Kindle

Published by LMP, 234 pages

This is the first collection of stories by L. H. Maynard I have ever read. I am unfamiliar with his name, though his stories are so well-written I am surprised I haven’t come across him before. In his introduction he says that he has been writing for over fifty years.

Beyond the Curtain contains five stories: “The Business of Barbarians”, “At the End of the Pier”, “Another Bite of the Cherry”, “An Office in the Grays Inn Road”, and “Double Act”, the last of which is possibly my favourite, bringing the collection to a satisfying if sad conclusion.

Set in an extremely well realised 1950s or early 1960s, these tales of the supernatural are centred around theatres and theatrical life, from struggling young actors, down-at-heel theatre managers, unscrupulous “big names”, theatrical agents to comedy duos, many of which used to tread the boards in those far off days, grittily depicting poor digs run by eccentric landladies and rundown piers in even more rundown seaside resorts. Maynard gives me the impression he has had a more than passing acquaintance with that world – and has researched it well, filling his tales with numerous references to stars of that bygone time: Arthur Askey, Max Wall, Max Bygraves, Bob Monkhouse, Galton and Simpson, and Eric Sykes. And no shortage of other details that set the timeframe to perfection without being pedantic.

Maynard has a leisurely style which I found easy to read and which helped to develop not only the characters of his protagonists but also the world in which they lived, giving the stories a bleak kitchen sink air of reality. Several times I was reminded of that Olivier movie The Entertainer with his opportunistic womanising comedian Archie Rice. Rice would have fitted so well into many of these tales!

I became so engrossed in these stories, especially their build up, that I almost regretted it when the supernatural element began to emerge. Not that these are not splendidly conceived – nor for the faint-hearted!

These are, in the main, dark tales, vividly detailed and flowingly written. And I enjoyed every one of them.

Beyond the Curtain: Uncanny Tales of the Theatre is available from amazon. And at only £6.99 is a definite bargain.

 

This review was first published in Phantasmagoria magazine.

My review of Grotesque Illuminations: The Art of David Whitlam




GROTESQUE ILLUMINATIONS: The Art of David Whitlam

$42/£35

This is an amazing volume, US letter size (8.5 x 11 inches), 143-page hardcover, filled with some absolutely fabulous surrealistic art by David Whitlam, beautifully printed in full-colour.

David Whitlam first came to my attention with some distinctively painted book covers, a couple of which have graced two published under my own Parallel Universe Publications imprint (A Little Light Screaming and A Distasteful Horror Story by Johnny Mains), though neither of these are in this current volume.

Whitlam has an obvious predilection for certain colours, mainly of the dark browns and sepia hues, which handsomely compliment his images, which are fabulously bizarre.

If I had a grumble it would be that the pictures are so fascinating in their range and concept I would have liked to read something about the artist’s inspirations and about the pictures themselves, their source and perhaps a little about what techniques he used to create them. As it is the only text in the book are the titles of the paintings. But this minor gripe apart, this is a great showcase for Whitlam’s work and one which can be pored over for hour on end. Whitlam is a true original, with an impressive command of whatever he is depicting.

Thoroughly recommended to anyone with a love of bizarre surrealistic art.

The book is available from:

https://www.lulu.com/en/gb/shop/david-whitlam/grotesque-illuminations/hardcover/product-12428jez.html?page=1&pageSize=4

https://www.davidwhitlam.com/books



This review originally appeared in Phantasmagoria #18

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

My review of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall by Vaughan Entwistle

THE REVENANT OF THRAXTON HALL: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle

£11.25 paperback; £0.99 Kindle

Published by Masque Publishing, 308 pages

Revenant: In folklore, a revenant is an animated corpse that is believed to have revived from death to haunt the living. The word revenant is derived from the Old French word, revenant, the "returning".

A more disparate pair of collaborators it would be hard to imagine than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde, yet Vaughn Entwistle accomplishes this in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall with remarkable skill, name-dropping on the way other notables from that era in a complex novel of supernatural intrigue. And, yes, despite there being some all too human malefactors involved in this tale, the supernatural has a malignant and all-important presence.

It is 1893 and The Strand has just published The Adventure of the Final Problem, in which Sherlock Holmes brings about the death of Professor Moriarty at the cost of his own life. Thus putting an end, so far as Doyle is concerned, to the Holmes stories, which, despite the wealth and success they have brought him, he has grown completely weary. But by doing this he has suddenly made himself the most hated man in London, as crowds of outraged Holmes devotees demonstrate outside the magazine’s offices, shouting their anger at the death of their hero. Doyle has other problems to deal with though: his wife Louisa is slowly dying of tuberculosis, and for all his medical knowledge he can do nothing to save her. It is now, like something out of one of his Holmes stories, that a mysterious letter arrives asking for his help.

Through a series of convincingly elaborate circumstances, it is not long before Doyle and his close friend Oscar Wilde embark on a train to Lancashire to stay at Thraxton Hall, where the newly created Society for Psychical Research will be holding a series of investigations. Thraxton Hall is owned by Lady Hope Thraxton, who though young has an affliction which makes sunlight deadly for her and must remain sheltered from it. Her family has a morbid history of murder and witchcraft and a curse which looks to culminate soon in her violent death.

This complex novel is splendidly fast moving with some sparkling dialogue, some of which, especially between Doyle and Wilde actually made me chuckle out loud! Not that this humour doesn’t share space with some well-written horror, especially in the decaying edifice of Thraxton Hall, a memorable haunted house, replete with secret rooms and hidden passageways and a huge, mouldering, partially flooded crypt. And a blind butler!

It never lets you down and remains engrossing right to the final page, with characters that leap full-fleshed from the page.  

Vaughn Entwistle has written another “paranormal casebook” of Conan Doyle, again accompanied by Oscar Wilde, The Dead Assassin. Having enjoyed reading The Revenant of Thraxton Hall I will most definitely be ordering this, as well as another historical novel, Hideous Progeny, which is about Mary Shelley and “her monster”! I can see me spending quite some time over the next few months acquainting myself with these and other books by Vaughn Entwistle, a writer I am glad to have discovered at last. 

 

This review was published in Phantasmagoria #19


 

 

Cover of the next issue of Trevor Kennedy's anthology series Gruesome Grotesques revealed.

Here is the amazing cover for the next bumper issue of Trevor Kennedy's anthology series Gruesome Grotesques, subtitled this time Carnival of Freaks.

Included will be my story Three Eyed Jack

This is due to be published on the 4th October. 

Book Reviews

I have created a new page on my blog with links to all the book reviews I have written over the past few years. 

Whenever any new reviews are published I'll add these to this page. 



Monday, 6 September 2021

My Review of Sleep No More by L. T. C. Rolt

My review appeared in Phantasmagoria magazine # 19

SLEEP NO MORE – Railway, Canal & Other Stories of the Supernatural by L. T. C. Rolt

Introduction by Susan Hill

The History Press 2013 (First published 1948)

Perhaps better known for his association and eventual break up with Robert Aickman in the Inland Waterways Association, which did so much to save and restore our canal system, Rolt may also have had an influence on Aickman with this splendid collection of ghost stories – though, like M. R. James, the term ghost is used loosely, as the forces at work within these tales are often far more demonic.

Susan Hill, in her Introduction, makes special mention of one particular story, Cwm Garon. And this, I must concur, is my favourite tale, with its echoes of Machen and even Algernon Blackwood – there is one paragraph in particular that puts me in mind of Blackwood’s masterpiece The Willows. It also has one of the most chilling of closing paragraphs I have ever come across, hinting at worse to come after the story has “ended”. But in truth, none of these stories are poor, and a few are quite outstanding.

Hawley Bank Foundry, for instance, is a great example of Rolt’s expert knowledge of industrial places being put to good use, with this generational tale of something inexplicable within the ruins of an old Victorian foundry which, because of the needs of the Second World War, is restored to working order again – with dire consequences! I can not only see and feel this place, I can smell it too.

Rolt was a practical man, an engineer, who wrote about iconic figures such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Robert Stephenson, and Thomas Telford, and that shows in many of his stories, effortlessly adding details which make their settings incredibly well realised, especially mines, tunnels, ironworks, etc., and at the same time lending a semblance of added credibility to the supernatural elements he introduces to them.

Many of his stories are also set in isolated places, especially the Welsh mountains, the west coast of Ireland or the wilds of Scotland, places with which he was obviously familiar as a hiker, and into which the intrusion of the strange, the unknown, of malevolently hostile supernatural forces make what is already sometimes a difficult place to survive even worse. 

There are just fourteen tales in this collection. After I had finished reading them I wished for more. In my opinion Rolt is certainly up there with the best names in the genre and I hope one day his stories will be better known. I can’t believe it has taken me all these years to read them! I’ll certainly reread them again someday.